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Will Salespeople Be Replaced by Robots?


As the CEO of one of the companies at the forefront of sales technology, at this time of year I often get asked about my predictions for what the future holds for the sales industry. Usually the person asking me is looking for some new angle or revolutionary technology utilization that will transform the industry over the next 12 months.

Sadly revolutions, even in technology, tend not to happen from one year to the next. Although I have seen a lot of bold predictions made about 2017, I do not think it takes a genius to determine that artificial intelligence (AI) is unlikely to transform CRM over the next 12 months, and certainly salespeople won’t be replaced by robots any time soon. Nevertheless, if you dare to open the aperture to the entire next decade, the question becomes a lot more intriguing.

My company, Velocify, is focused on sales communication, which I believe over the next ten to fifteen years will be dramatically transformed. To guess at how this will happen, the best clue is to look at the consumer communication revolution.

Understanding the Consumer Communication Revolution

Fifteen years ago, technology primarily enabled what I call medium-form communications such as email and telephone calls. These forms of communications are not exceptionally context rich, but enable quite a lot of single dimensional information exchange. If I wanted to communicate with someone remotely in 2002, I would most likely use phone or email, and occasionally send a fax when I needed to communicate something more visually.

Although email and phone remain core communication methods for consumers today (especially for people over the age of 30) there has been a fragmentation away from these in two directions – short form communications and long form communications.

Short-form communications for consumers are exemplified by tweets, snaps, SMS text messages, and Facebook updates. These are brief, staccato messages, sometimes to one person, sometimes to many. These messages are direct, efficient, and useful. They get the job done without fuss.

Long-form communication involves activities like Skyping and Facetiming–mediums through which you are able to have a much more contextual and immersive conversation with the person/people you are communicating with.

The Future of Sales Communication

I believe that in the next decade, business communications, and sales communications in particular, will go the way of consumer communications. However, the path won’t be identical.

Short-form and long-form communication will be characterized by different technologies since technical innovation will have been considerable during the time between the consumer communications revolution and the business communications revolution.

The short form business version of tweets and text messages is likely to be AI responses. If I have a question about pricing or contract terms or model features, I will be able to get my answer from a business version of Siri since these are factual questions that will become easily answerable by an algorithmically devised version of intelligence. Indeed we are starting to see the first shoots on the tree of innovation from companies experimenting with AI sales communications today.

Long form communications, however, will have even more potential to transform sales. Today there is a strong and rapidly growing preference in B2B sales for remote relationships, sometimes referred to as the “inside sales revolution.” These sales professionals work inside the company’s building and typically sell via phone, web, and email. However, over the next 10-15 years I predict that one particular technology will take inside sales beyond a revolutionary movement to being the only form of sales there is. That technology is virtual reality (VR).

Virtual Reality: The End of Business Travel?

Virtual reality today is in its infancy, so this prediction to some might seem too far a stretch to talk about yet. However, I believe this will change a great deal over the next decade and VR will shift from being a gimmick for gaming fans to a mainstream form of communication and interaction. As a potential customer, I will be able to join my sales rep in their conference room, do factory tours, and inspect machinery, all through VR, without anyone ever getting on a plane.

Just as with consumer communications, email and telephone calls will continue to exist in business sales, they’ll just be squeezed by AI and VR on either end. However, I suspect that for many more decades to come the innately sophisticated aspects of selling such as listening, empathizing, convincing, and negotiation will continue to be uniquely human activities.

The good news for salespeople is only the mundane parts of their jobs will be replaced by robots and the punishment of business travel will become a thing of the past.


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